In what committee chairman Wade Hyslop characterized as the start of a series of discussions aimed at improving public safety in New London, the Public Safety Committee discussed the ’s dog policies as well as the .
Mayor Daryl Finizio, Chief Margaret Ackley and New London Police Union President Todd Lynch attended the meeting. Finizio and Lynch said they were unable to discuss ongoing legal issues, but spoke about how the retirements were negotiated as well as a controversy involving the sale of a police dog.
Lynch said the union has filed grievances related to police practices, and he has also filed a and the city charging that she has demonstrated retaliatory behavior as a result of his criticisms. The captains, William Dittman and Michael Lacey, have also , Ackley, Finizio, and Personnel Coordinator Bernadette Welch. The captains are accusing the city of breach of contract and other charges following the City Council’s repeated rejection of extra funding necessary for the agreements.
Finizio said that after he made the decision to , he considered the possibility of further administrative changes within the department.
“It’s been my experience that it’s easier to make these decisions all at once if you’re revamping a department than to do it piecemeal,” he said.
Finizio said Ackley, Welch, and city attorney Brian Estep discussed the possibility of retirement with the captains. He said the negotiations were made in good faith on the understanding that funding was available for the retirements, but found out soon after that the city was facing a projected .
Ackley also said she felt the retirements had been negotiated in good faith.
“At no point did anyone mention, ‘But it has to go before [City] Council,’” said Ackley. “And I don’t think anyone realized it at the time.”
Finizio said the union’s attorney brought up some concerns about the retirements, but did not object to them. Lynch said the union did not object to the retirements but rather the way they were negotiated. He the union was not informed or present and that each retirement affects the bargaining unit as a whole.
“What we wanted was for everyone who was eligible to retire on that same day to get that same deal,” he said.
The committee also discussed the sale of a drug-sniffing dog to Roger Newton, a police officer who was placed on administrative leave following the accusation that he planted drugs during a traffic stop. Newton later agreed to resign during negotiations with the city, with one condition that he could pay $500 to keep the dog.
Hyslop said he had heard concerns that the dog was worth considerably more than what it was sold for. Finizio said he was told that the dog was “effectively useless” since Newton was its second handler and that it had remained kenneled since Newton was placed on leave. He said he also considered that Newton had developed an attachment to the dog and that he considered it a preferable option to a potentially costly legal battle.
“I saw this as an opportunity to save the city a great deal of aggravation and possibly expense,” he said.
Finizio said he was also unaware of the dog’s history when he made his decision. It was purchased with funds raised through Buscetto’s Bash on the Beach, an annual fundraising event held by former city councilor Michael Buscetto III. Buscetto was Finizio’s opponent in the Democratic primary as well as the general election for mayor and has been critical of Ackley.
Lynch, the department’s dog training officer, said drug-sniffing police dogs cost about $6,000 to $6,500 and take three weeks to train and bond to a handler. He said the dogs are worth about $15,000 once trained. He said he could not be sure how much longer the dog could have stayed with the department if it was retrained, but estimated that it could potentially have served for another five years.
Finizio responded that he considered the dog’s value against other potential costs, such as litigation, and that its value may have depreciated as it aged. He said the severance was agreeable to all parties.
“That has proven rare in many of these recent situations,” he said.
The discussion also turned for a time to the use of dogs in the department. Finizio said his proposed budget fully fund’s the department’s dog program with $77,000, but said that it was possible to save money by contracting with other agencies for some functions that involve dogs.
Lynch said he was concerned that Finizio was referring to dogs that are trained to bite. He said these dogs are useful to have available at hand, citing an arrest in August in which a dog helped capture a man wanted on a warrant for a violent home invasion in Massachusetts.
Finizio said the remark was not meant to be a criticism of any individual officer or past policy. However, he said there is debate in law enforcement circles on whether certain situations can be handled without the use of dogs and that he considers it a matter that should be discussed.
Ackley said there have also been some concerns over whether biting dogs have been used disproportionately against minorities. She said eight of 10 recorded dog bites in 2009 were against minorities, as well as all nine dog bites recorded in 2010. She said only two dog bites occurred in 2011, of which one was on a minority.
At the committee’s request, Ackley said she would get more information on the incidents related to the bites. Lynch says he has kept statistics on his own dog, and that in the past five years he recorded dog bites on nine black suspects, six Hispanic suspects, and four white suspects.
“Every one of those uses of force was justified,” he said.
Ackley said the department currently has a dual drug-sniffing and patrol dog, although the officer assigned to this dog has been off-duty due to an injury.